THE head of Scotland's first national park has said it should move towards paternships with the private sector to secure its existence for future generations.

Fiona Logan, chief executive of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, said there was potential for greater involvement of the private sector, sponsorship from local businesses and contributions from visitors in the form of donations and charges.

A vision could be created where national parks could become "self-sustaining" in 10-20 years and no longer have to rely on public funding, she told the Sunday Herald.

Logan's comments – which she emphasised were her own personal view and which have troubled many organisations representing park users – come as the national-park authority considers potential commercial opportunities to generate extra income.

Among the suggestions made in a paper presented to a meeting of the park board last week is introducing charges for a wider range of services and facilities – such as charges for parking, toilets, campsites and "non-emergency" boat rescues, such as those who have run out of fuel contributing to the cost of being towed back to shore.

Logan, who has an extensive background in the private sector including working for major companies such as Unilever and IBM, said the park had escaped big cuts in funding despite the tough economic climate.

But she said around 95% of the park's annual income of nearly £8 million was from Scottish Government grants, leaving "all our eggs are in one basket".

"If we believe protecting the area for future generations is important – which we all do – we believe finding sustainable ways of paying for that and providing for that in the future is important too," she said.

Logan said a key strategy of the park was to invest in its infrastructure – pier networks and visitor sites, for example – which would give the private sector confidence to invest. She said there were lots of planning applications in for "significant tourism development" and pointed to the example of a five-star hotel and marina which is to be built at a former derelict torpedo-testing range near Ben Arthur as an example of the success of the approach.

"People can now come into the park and they have a variety of activities to do and a variety of accommodation, so they are constructively spending time in the park," she said. "Public-sector budgets are predicted to decline somewhat in the next while or at least hold where they are – they are not going to go up again.

"Frankly, I think that is a great opportunity to become more creative and innovative, but then I am very lucky in that I have a private-sector background, that is how I think," said Logan, who was paid £75,000-£80,000 in 2011 for her role as park chief executive.

"How do we get self-sustaining? How do we make sure we are acting as catalysts behind the scenes to allow the private sector to flourish in the park area?" she added.

The board papers show that nearly £400,000 of income was generated in 2012-13 from commercial activities such as leasing visitor centres to private firms and fees for planning applications. Money was also generated through charges for services and facilities ranging from camping and toilets to slipways and boat registration, with other income from the hire of sites for filming, sale of merchandise and donations.

Logan said new charges many be introduced, for example at other toilet facilities or campsites with services such as showers.

But she added: "We are absolutely a public body. This is not about profit, this is about sustainability. This is about encouraging people to use as much of the park as possible. It will be low-level charging in order to maintain and sustain our services and the infrastructure out there."

Other ideas being explored include: asking visitors to make contributions, for example by sponsoring animals; selling a greater range of merchandise; and asking local businesses to lend their support, by sponsoring volunteer rangers, for example.

Logan said there was an opportunity to "think creatively" about how Scotland's national parks could generate enough income to support themselves in the future.

"I would like to think we would create a vision over the next 10-20 years about how national parks don't need public funding and how we could be self-sustaining," she said.

"We have 7.5 million visitor days a year spent in the park and four million visitors a year – that is significant for Scotland."

Logan's comments sparked criticism from park users. Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, said he had concerns the park was already "losing its way" due to moves such as new bylaws to ban "wild camping" on the east shore of Loch Lomond.

"If this is the view of the chief executive there needs to be serious questions asked in the Scottish Government about what direction she is taking the national park," he said. "All this about commercialisation would seem to us that she is just losing the plot," he added.

Bill McDermott, chairman of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks, described the park as a "national asset".

"I think if we went down the road of commercialisation, we are more or less selling off the silver," he said. "I would hate to have a park where everything was privatised and had to be paid for. That doesn't give a sense of community at all."

Peter Jack, chair of the Loch Lomond Association, set up to represent the interest of water users, said there was likely be differing views in his organisation on the matter.

He added: "My belief is that the intention of the Scottish Government when the park concept was first brought in, was that it should be there to encourage everybody in Scotland and from further afield to use it pretty well free at the point of use as much as could be achieved. That is not the philosophy that has been pursued by the park increasingly over recent years."

Logan's views received a "guarded welcome" from John Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland.

He backed the idea of trying to make the parks more financially sustainable, but added: "I could imagine a situation where a commercial operator or resort would say, 'If it is going to help get our proposal through in the national park then we would be happy to provide some funding.'

"That is a bit worrying because planning decisions should be made purely on their planning and conservation merits and any income which is coming in shouldn't be an issue."

Elan Journo, fellow and policy director at the US-based Ayn Rand Institute, which champions free markets, said the idea of truly private parks was a "radical departure" from long-established custom, but was a direction that was "morally right and practically best".

He cited Apple and Google as examples of how allowing private enterprise freedom to function had resulted in "life-enriching products", adding that competing restaurants in an area offer a diverse dining experience.

"Expect the same from genuinely free parks," he said. "What is Disneyland if not a privately-owned park offering a unique experience?

"Now imagine profit-seekers left free to create various park experiences – an untamed wilderness; manicured lawns and serenity; fishing, soccer fields, and carousels – there would be all of that and more."

A Scottish Government spokesman said it supported the National Park in exploring opportunities for further investment in visitor facilities.